COLLEGE NOTEBOOK: UTPB addressing penalty issues after lopsided win

With a final score like 96-0, it’s tough to find too many weaknesses or glaring problems.

For UTPB head coach Kris McCullough, there were still plenty to nitpick, most notably, the penalties conceded.

The Falcons began the 2023 season-and the McCullough era-with the largest victory in program history against NAIA Texas College Saturday at Astound Broadband Stadium in Midland.

While it’s safe to say UTPB at the moment has the leading offense and defense in the NCAA Division II nation right now, the team is also up there in penalty yards allowed.

The Falcons had 17 penalties for 181 total yards.

“It was great to get on the field and get our first win,” McCullough said. “I think we’re pretty happy now but I was very disappointed with a couple of things. The biggest thing was the discipline of our team. we had too many penalties. We may lead the country in offense and defense but we also lead the country in penalty yards. I’ve never had that before in my career. I was disappointed in that aspect. I think we let the emotions get the best of us on our first game. They had more first downs off penalties.”

It’s something that McCullough will be addressing this week with his players as they prepare for their next game at Western Colorado at 2 p.m. Saturday in Gunnison, Colo.

“We talked about that and we have shifted our focus to Western Colorado,” McCullough said. “They’re a great football team. They’re going to receive votes in the top 25. They’re a talented team. they’ve only lost like twice in four years at home. 18-6 in their last 24 home games. Their coach does a great job. They’ll be disciplined. We’re going to go in expecting a dog fight.”

>> HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE:The Mountaineers only lost twice at their home stadium of Katy O. Rady Field last year.

Western Colorado, which plays in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, went 7-4 last year which included a 34-31 overtime lost to UTPB in Midland.

Coached by Jas Bains, the Mountaineers (1-0) are coming off a 28-6 win at home against West Texas A&M-another team that defeated Western Colorado last year.

“Western Colorado is good up front,” McCullough said. “We have to protect Kenny (Hrncir) but if he throws like he did this past game, we’re going to be fine. On defense, their quarterback is a little bit of a sneaky mover. We’ll have to contain him. They have a lot of playmakers on that side of the ball as well. … we have to be sound and disciplined on defense.”

Hrncir went 19-of-24 for 287 yards total and threw six touchdown passes in the Falcons’ season-opening win over the Steers.

Wide receiver Laquan Wells had five receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns while wide receiver Jeremiah Cooley had three receptions for 57 yards and two touchdowns.

The Falcons finished with 275 yards rushing from 40 carries with running back Kory Harris leading the way with nine carries for 85 yards and a touchdown.

“I was happy we got to 80-plus points,” McCullough said. “It was fun to watch those guys and watch them make plays. We’ll have tougher competition. Western Colorado has a lot of speed.”

>> DEFENSE:Aside from the penalties, McCullough liked what he saw from his defense in Saturday’s win.

UTPB’s defense had four turnovers with three of them coming off interceptions and one from a fumble recovery.

“They didn’t give up much,” McCullough said. “They gave up more yards on penalties but watching our defense is fun. Watching it as a coach and seeing our players fly around has been fun. I expect nothing different this week.”

>> TOUGHER TEST: However, despite the margin of last week’s victory, McCullough knows it’s going to be a more difficult challenge for his team this week as they go up against an NCAA Division II opponent.

“Every single day, we wake up and aiming to go 1-0,” McCullough said. “We have to do our job. Every practice, all we talk about is winning the next game. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We just have to be better than we were on the last play and the day before.”

>> AROUND THE CONFERENCE: Defending Lone Star Conference champion Angelo State won its season opener against West Alabama, 38-14, last Thursday in Livingston, Ala while Western Oregon fell to South Dakota State 45-7 in Brookings S.D. that same day.

Eastern New Mexico squeezed out a 28-26 win over New Mexico Highlands in Portales, N.M. last Thursday while Central Washington fell to Weber State 35-10 in Ogden, Utah on Thursday.

Texas A&M-Kingsville defeated Colorado Mesa 30-10 on Saturday in Grand Junction, Colo. while Midwestern State lost to Colorado State-Pueblo, 37-8 in Pueblo, Colo.

Western New Mexico defeated Sul Ross State 42-28 in Silver City, N.M.